Findings of maladministration and injustice
London Borough of Brent (96/A/1637)
Nottinghamshire County Council (97/C/3705)
A man complained that the Council has delayed unreasonably, and in contravention of the relevant regulations, in processing his complaint against the Council that had been accepted as a formal complaint under the statutory Children's Act complaints procedure. The Ombudsman found a catalogue of maladministration including: failure to clarify who would deal with which parts of the complaint, failure to inform the complainant of how long it would take to deal with, failure to meet statutory and Council policy deadlines, unreasonable delay in appointing an independent investigator, failure to monitor the investigation or ensure that a timescale was met, and failure to provide a swift written response to the complainant once the investigation report had been received. The Ombudsman also found general maladministration including: failure to monitor compliance with the relevant timescales properly, failure to review the effectiveness of the procedure, and failure to provide relevant information and statistics in annual reports.
Newark and Sherwood District Council (96/C/4702)
The Council erroneously led the complainant's mother and aunt, and a prospective purchaser of a property they had inherited, to believe that it was subject to a planning condition restricting its occupancy to persons aged 60 and over. He says that, as a result, his mother and aunt lost a prospective sale, causing them to suffer financial loss and the continuing burden of maintaining the property. As it was not certain that a sale would have been completed, the Ombudsman reduced the amount of recompense she recommended the Council to pay the complainant to reflect this; she recommended payment of£5,000.
Mid Suffolk District Council (97/B/1796)
Planning - consideration/neighbour amenity
A couple live in a small rural settlement. Their neighbour, whose farm entrance is about 40 metres from their home, runs a haulage business from the farm. The couple complained that the Council failed to limit the number of lorries that can operate from the farm, when granting planning permission for the haulage business. The result, according to the couple, is that the haulage use has intensified, and that they suffer form noise disturbance caused by excessive heavy goods traffic to and from the site. The Council's intention was that the number of vehicles should not exceed two. Its failure to impose a specific condition to that effect was maladministration. There are now four heavy good vehicles operating from the site, although intrusive noise is, apparently, not occurring at present because the neighbour is using a different exit from the farm for these vehicles. The Council should try to negotiate a binding agreement with him not to resume the use of the farm entrance nearest the complainant's home for his haulage business.
Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council (97/C/4163)
Special educational needs
The Council failed to respond to a woman's requests for an assessment of her daughter's special educational needs. Some of the delay was due to the special needs not being immediately apparent but, as the complainant's concerns increased, the reasons for the delay became less acceptable. The Council also failed to give the complainant advice about her right to request a formal assessment. The Ombudsman concluded that the delay did impede the girl's progress and caused stress and anxiety to the family. The Council should pay a total of£1,300 to cover the cost of home tutoring and books that were provided during the period of the delay, as recompense for the loss to the girl's education, and to account for the complainant's stress and anxiety, and her time and trouble in pursuing her complaint.
Trafford Metropolitan Borough Council (97/C/0250)
A man complained that the Council has failed to deal with his complaints of harassment and generally unacceptable behaviour by Council tenants living close to him. The Council had information to suggest that one tenant was failing to comply with her tenancy agreement and, possibly with her visitors, was causing the complainant harassment, fear of violence and damage to his property. There was maladministration in that the Council failed to carry out any effective enquiries to establish whether or not the allegations were true and failed to interview the alleged witnesses. Even after serving a Notice of Seeking Possession on the tenant, the Council failed to take further enforcement action for eight months. The complainant therefore continued to suffer from harassment, threats of violence, assault, nuisance, trespass and damage to his property for longer than necessary.
Broxbourne Borough Council (97/B/1498)
A woman complained that the Council failed to take action to prevent noise disturbance and harassment by her adjoining neighbours; failed to carry out proper monitoring of the noise she complained about; and misinformed her about the neighbours' future occupation of the house next door. The Ombudsman did not uphold the first two elements of the complaint because the Council had sought to get the neighbours to moderate their behaviour and had attempted to monitor the noise, although the equipment had failed. The Council then served a Notice of Seeking Possession on the neighbours, citing the nuisance they were causing as grounds for possession. The complainant refused the offer of further monitoring because the noise was not so bad by then and she thought the proceedings for possession would solve the problem. However, the complainant was misinformed about the true position regarding the Council's actions in respect of the neighbours. She was told they were leaving the property when in fact the proceedings had been dropped, apparently because of lack of corroborative evidence. That was maladministration.
London Borough of Lambeth (97/A/2733, 3494 and 2368)
Two full-time students, who are single parents, complained about the way the Council has dealt with their housing benefit claims since October 1995. The Ombudsman found maladministration in that the Council: failed to assess the claims on a student basis and continued to pay benefit on the basis of Income Support; delayed determining the renewal claim made by one complainant for 10 months during which time no benefit was paid; suspended the other complainant's claim and did not assess it properly for 18 months; as a result of failings in its assessments, overpaid benefit to both complainants; sent one complainant and her adviser letters containing confusing, erroneous and conflicting information; and delayed in dealing with requests by both complainants for reviews of the recovery of the overpayments. Both complainants had mounting rent arrears as a result. One complainant was served with a Notice of Seeking Possession and feared losing her home. The Council's mistakes also contributed to her decision not to continue with her degree course.
Findings of no maladministration
Newcastle-upon-Tyne City Council (97/C/3401-2)
Planning - consideration/neighbour amenity
Two people complained that the Council failed to consider a planning application to allow the use of neighbouring premises for a mobile fish and chip business properly. When granting planning permission, the Council also failed to consider properly whether to impose a condition to inhibit the heating of fat on the premises and subsequently failed to consider properly whether to enforce three conditions that were imposed on the planning permission. Although the issue was finely balanced, the Ombudsman concluded that the relevant Sub-Committee was not misled and that there was no maladministration in the granting of planning permission or the omission of the condition. While there is information available to the Council about alleged breaches of conditions, the Council's failure to recognise that information as complaints about breaches has not, in the Ombudsman's view, led to any loss of enforcement action.
Newark and Sherwood District Council (96/C/3310)
A man complained on behalf of himself and other local residents that the Council had failed to take the appropriate protective measures to preserve a former orchard within a conservation area in their village. He says that, as a result, protected and other trees have been removed and an area of landscape and wildlife value has been irreparably damaged causing the loss of a local amenity. Between July 1995 and August 1996, the Council was aware that trees were being removed but did not consider a tree preservation order to be appropriate, because of the poor physical condition of the trees and their short life expectancy. Subsequently, tree preservation orders were made but these could not have prevented the felling of trees that were removed between September 1996 and June 1997. The Council has resolved that, if no agreement on a replanting scheme can be reached with the landowner in the near future, a formal replanting notice will be served on him. No maladministration was found.